New Theatrical Group Has Stadium-Sized Plans

A new on-campus theater group this fall has begun to organize an ambitious plan of producing a musical in the Harvard Stadium.

But as of yet the group has yet to receive official approval for the unprecedented use of the Stadium.

Harvard Student Theater Advancing Growth and Empowerment (STAGE) hopes to put on a production of the musical Chicago in the Stadium this spring.

“It is ambitious, but we’ve been looking at a lot of venues and we feel that the newness of the idea of a show in the Stadium will excite people enough to come out and see it,” said Rebecca E. Rubins ’05, chair of the new group’s board of directors.

“We also wanted a place that had an imposing appearance, a place that could get people truly psyched about the show from just sitting in the audience,” she added, “and for that, the football stadium is clearly beyond compare.”

In order to fully realize their plan, STAGE needs to receive approval from both the Department of Athletics and the Office of the Arts (OFA).

“At this time there is no formal agreement, but we are happy to explore opportunities which would benefit the Harvard community,” Jeremy Gibson, assistant director of athletics, wrote in an e-mail.

Jack Megan, STAGE’s primary liaison at the OFA, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Senior Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 stressed that the planning of this project was far from set in stone.

“This is a visionary idea from a great group of students, but it needs a lot of work if it’s to be a reality,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But history does not bode well for student groups seeking to hold large events in the Stadium.

An attempt last year by the Harvard Concert Commission to hold a concert there was rejected by the College administration. University officials seemed particularly concerned about a negative response from Allston residents to such a concert.

Another hurdle to staging a play in the Stadium is the drastically increased audience size required in order for the production to be a success.

Rubins admitted that the project is very daring, adding that she hopes to sell between 5,000 and 10,000 tickets. She cited the recent free performance of the opera Carmen on Boston Commons as a precedent for successful outdoor performances.

The most successful student show in the history of the Loeb Mainstage was Jesus Christ Superstar in 1999, which filled the 556-seat theater at an average 85 percent capacity for several weeks.

Daniel A. Cozzens ’03, president of the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club, said such high expectations for ticket sales were entirely unprecedented but was nonetheless optimistic about its success.

“I would say that it probably could be done, and, if they pull it off, it would be really cool,” he said.

Rubins, who produced the Freshman Musical last year, said the new theater group aims to establish a strong link between the arts and public service.

She said the groups intends to donate the proceeds from the musical to a Boston charity whose focus is helping disadvantaged youth.

“The idea behind this group is that theater can and should be a force for positive change in society and that musicals in particular have a unique power to inspire people to reconnect with their communities,” Rubins said.

Rubins claimed inspiration from participating in both theater and public service programs last year.

“I saw a New England Conservatory production of Chicago and I fell in love with [the musical] and I resolved to put on a production of [it] at Harvard,” she said. “Then...I saw [Governor] Jane Swift speak about public service and it just hit me that I could combine the two.”

Rubins said STAGE intends to seek corporate funding and grants in order to support the project and hire professional consultants who could properly publicize the event throughout the Boston area.

“I feel that a lot of Harvard shows are disadvantaged in that they limit their audience to the walls of the Yard,” she said.

Currently Rubins said she envisions the stage being set up past the endzone of the football field. Seating would be limited to the U-shaped bend at the closed end of the Stadium.

E. Peyton Sherwood ’04, an experienced member of the technical theater community, reserved judgement on the feasibility of the project.

“There are all sorts of technical problems concerning acoustics and lighting, among other things, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” he said.

Matthew J. Corriel ’05, Chicago’s music director, expressed some trepidation about the success of the show but said he was determined to treat it no differently than any other show.

“It’s just a standard show in an exciting new space,” he said.

Assuming the success of this year’s production, the group plans to put on one major musical every spring.

—Staff writer Steven N. Jacobs can be reached snjacobs@fas.harvard.edu.